It may be five years since Anthony Tan last lived in Europe but as June comes round each year, he still knows where he’d rather be.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

It may be five years since Anthony Tan last lived in Europe but as June comes round each year, he still knows where he'd rather be.

During the years I lived in Europe, packing my bags for the Tour de Suisse meant it was time to bring my A-game: it was never more than a fortnight between the end of the race and the start of the Tour de France, so I needed to be watchful of the condition of all the Tour contenders as well as keep an eye on any who might surprise, or were floating under the radar.

The other pre-Tour lead-up event, the Crit̩rium du Dauphin̩ (prior to the 2010 edition known as the Crit̩rium du Dauphin̩ Lib̩r̩) was always run concurrently. I, or more correctly, my editors, had to make a choice, and from the mid-2000s, when we enlisted the services of a French-based correspondent who lived in Provence, smack-bang in the race's heartland, there was no choice Рit became a case of Suisse or rien (nothing). (I can already hear you bring out the violins...) The last edition of the Dauphin̩ I covered in the field was in 2005 when Basque rider Inigo Landaluze won the race ahead of Santiago Botero, Levi Leipheimer and some dude called Lance Armstrong. Yeah, LA and I go way back, don't we Tex?

While the Tour de Suisse has the advantage over the Dauphin̩ in terms of editions held Рas of 2010 it's 74 versus 62 Рand race distance Рthis year, 1246.4km versus 1064km РI've always felt the latter is the better pre-Tour tune-up for a general classification contender. The last winner of the Tour of Switzerland that finished on the podium in July was Alexandre Vinokourov in 2003 (the Kazakhstani finished third in La Grande Boucle), and it was two years before that when the last winner of Suisse also won the Tour, when none other than Armstrong took both titles. As it turns out, that very race in Switzerland is now under intense scrutiny by investigators from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with Armstrong accused of covering up a positive drug test for EPO by his former US Postal Service team-mate Tyler Hamilton.

The US Department of Justice-led probe, along with the fate of Alberto Contador before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the hearing recently pushed back to 1-3 August from its original 6-8 June date, are cycling's latest cause célèbres, and with respect to both, their dénouement appears inexorable and imminent. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to court we go...

Martial Saugy, the Swiss lab director responsible for testing riders from the 2001 Tour de Suisse, at first denied such a cover-up took place (as has the UCI), telling as much to the FBI, FDA investigators and anti-doping authorities – but did say there were four "suspicious" samples, though claimed no knowledge of the names associated with those samples. However according to a 2 June report by the Associated Press Saugy has changed his story, telling US authorities that test results from Armstrong's doping controls at the race were "consistent with EPO use".

The 2001 Tour of Switzerland was also an anomaly because it was the only year Armstrong rode that race instead of the Dauphiné as prep for the Tour de France, and even though he won, for the next four years he didn't come back, winning the Dauphiné in 2002 and '03. Perhaps only now we are discovering the real reason why.

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The Dauphin̩ also has an edge over the Tour de Suisse because it covers much of the Alpine terrain to be used at the Tour. To recon the climbs in training is one thing Рbut to experience a mini-TdF dress rehearsal is invaluable and for many a GC protagonist worth his salt, viewed as absolutely essential.

In 2011, and for the very first time, the 42.5km stage three individual time trial in Grenoble on 8 June will be an exact replica of the stage 20 ITT at the Tour on July 23. As far back as a month ago Cadel Evans told me it will be here that he will truly test himself at Le Dauphiné. "It's not a time trial designed for climbers but for all-rounders," Bernard Thevenet, race director and twice champion of the event (1975-76), said. The time trial may not be one for the grimpeurs (climbers) but the two summit finishes that bookend this year's race (stages six and seven to Le Collet d'Allevard and La Toussuire, respectively) make it a race for a mountain goat to win overall.

The end of the Dauphin̩, between two and three weeks prior to the Tour Рversus less than a fortnight before at the Tour de Suisse Рis also a subtle and important distinction. Said Thevenet, also a two-time Tour de France winner and by virtue of his 1975 victory, credited with ending the reign of the great Eddy Merckx: "There are several reasons why the Criterium du Dauphin̩ is important for the Tour de France favourites. With eight stages, including several in the mountains, it is a good indicator of the riders' form. When you're bad in the Criterium, it is likely that your Tour will not be easy. Meanwhile, you still have two weeks before the start and you still have time to adjust and work on a few weaknesses. And you can't do this after the Tour de Suisse."

The start-list for the 5 June prologue in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne may be without Giro champion and defending Tour champ (for the time being, we'll continue to grant him those sobriquets) Contador but nonetheless, it's a star-studded list: Evans, Vinokourov, Ivan Basso, Robert Gesink, Bradley Wiggins, Samuel Sanchez, Tony Martin, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and last year's Dauphiné champion, Janez Brajkovic. As for the Tour de Suisse, their main drawcard is the brothers Schleck from Leopard-Trek, who will be fielding what is essentially their Tour squad, along with the inimitable Mark "may cause offence" Cavendish.

"It will be an interesting race to assess my form," Evans said of the Dauphiné, "and that of other riders who were not on the Giro. I'm not going there with great expectations. It is a test, not an objective."

During the cycling season I no longer reside in the über-clean, über-chic and über-Swiss town of Vevey on the northern shores of Lake Geneva. Spending 200-plus days a year on the road watching dudes in Lycra isn't my thing anymore, though my passion for the sport remains the same. (Okay, okay, last week was an aberration...) My bad-ass Samonsite suitcase is staying put in storage till the end of the month, before tumbling off the tarmac at Aeroport Charles de Gaulle for another Grande Boucle.

But if I was there, I know which race I'd rather be at.

P.S. I read all your comments from my last post and I have to say I was pretty touched by your sentiments. Not once in my almost three years' writing these columns have I asked you to agree with me, but it was comforting to know on this issue at least so many were on the same page. I've often said to dismiss reader feedback is arrogant and ignorant because in a roundabout way, it is the fans that are responsible for keeping me and my colleagues in a job.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan